Data Wonk

How Republicans Embrace COVID-19

The data shows a strange alliance; how the GOP helps a deadly virus spread.

By - Sep 2nd, 2020 04:20 pm

In its August poll, Marquette Law School asked Wisconsin voters whether masks should be required in all public places. An overwhelming 69 percent agreed, versus 29 percent disagreeing, better than a two-to-one ratio.

Unfortunately for the effectiveness of the U.S. and Wisconsin response to the virus, a person’s stance towards COVID-19 is heavily influenced by where one stands on the partisan political spectrum. As the graph below shows, Democrats favor mandatory masks by 97 percent to 1 percent, while a majority of Republicans were opposed, 57 percent to 39 percent.

Mask requirement polling

The solid blue line in the next graph is based on the number of new cases of COVID-19 every day. To smooth out some of the variation in the reporting of cases, I average the daily rate over seven days. To be able to compare Wisconsin’s results with those from other states or countries, I divided the cases by the Wisconsin population, to get the number of cases per 100,000 residents. The original numbers come from a database maintained by the New York Times.

Per capita new daily COVID-19 cases in Wisconsin

This graph also includes four dashed lines. The first line, in green, shows the May Wisconsin Supreme Court’s decision overturning Governor Evers’ emergency order aimed at reversing the spread of COVID. Two months later the daily infection rate had risen from 6 per 100,000 residents to 16.

In the process, Wisconsin passed a safety limit imposed by New York on travelers from other states. New York’s limit, shown by the yellow dashed line, required travelers from states with more than 10 new daily cases per 100,000 residents to quarantine for fourteen days.

Wisconsin then proceeded to cross a safety limit imposed by Chicago, shown with purple on the above graph. Chicago imposes a 14-day quarantine requirement on travelers from states with over 15 new cases per 100,000 residents.

Subsequently, Wisconsin succeeded in reducing its caseload to a value around 12 or 13 new cases per 100,000 residents, where it seems to sit today, low enough for Chicago but too high for New York. Governor Tony Evers’ mask mandate, shown as a red vertical dashed line, was part of the effort to get the virus under control in Wisconsin.

The map below, taken from the Chicago Department of Health’s web site, shows the status of each state. States shown in red have new daily cases exceeding 15 per 100,000 residents. Their residents would be subject to the Chicago (and New York) quarantine requirements. States shown in yellow are between 10 and 15 per 100,000 and escape Chicago’s quarantine requirement — but not New York’s. Those in light gray are below 10 per 100,000; their residents would escape both Chicago’s and New York’s quarantine requirements.

Chicago’s travel restrictions

The map above could also come close to predicting the 2016 election results. With the notable exception of California, red states on the map showing high case loads match up to red states that Trump won. With more exceptions, states in gray, those with case loads below 10, would mostly be blue on the election results map.

One of the exceptions is Ohio. Despite having a Republican governor and voting for Trump, it manages to meet the New York safety limit. Yet it makes my point. A Republican state representative recently announced that he has drafted 10 articles of impeachment against Gov. Mike DeWine over the governor’s response to the coronavirus. Here is a sample of its language:

WHEREAS, Richard Michael DeWine’s face covering mandate promotes fear, turns neighbors against neighbors, and contracts the economy by making people fearful to leave their homes, to the detriment of every Ohioan; …

The articles go on to quote discredited claims, such as:

WHEREAS, Healthcare professionals have stated that, for the general population wearing face coverings, people are more likely to infect themselves with COVID-19 because they will touch their face more often to adjust the covering, and that face coverings retain moisture, bacteria, and other viruses, in addition to re-breathing carbon dioxide, making them potentially dangerous for the general public to wear …

For some reason, President Trump has decided that the most politically effective approach to COVID is to ignore it and to pretend it has gone away. What surprises me is that so many Republicans—and Republican politicians—seem to have internalized Trump’s decision.

Washington County is the most rural of the three WOW counties (including Ozaukee and Waukesha) that, together with Milwaukee County, make up the Milwaukee metro area. COVID generally finds it easiest to spread in cities, where people are in close proximity, may ride public transportation, and multiple generations may live together and find it hard to isolate, and may come into contact with a large variety of other people.

At some point this inherent rural advantage, combined with support for Trump, evolves into a belief that only liberals and Democrats gain from reducing COVID infections. Washington County is a prime example of ideology getting in the way of effective problem solving. It was the only Wisconsin county to submit an amicus brief to the Wisconsin Supreme Court opposing Gov. Evers’ emergency order aimed at stopping the spread of the virus. And new articles have described attacks on its county health care workers.

The graph compares the number in Milwaukee and Washington counties of COVID cases adjusted for population. Not surprising, given this county’s opposition to safety measures, its cases now exceed those in Milwaukee County despite the advantage Washington County has from being a rural area.

New COVID-19 cases in Milwaukee and Washington counties

Oklahoma and South Dakota also illustrate the rural advantage when confronting COVID and how fragile that advantage is. For weeks they experienced two of the lowest rates of new cases among all the states. Then something happened to kick them into rapid COVID growth.

The chart below tracks cases in Oklahoma. After weeks of new cases running a moderate 3 per 100,000 residents, cases started increasing in June with an added boost from Trump’s rally in Tulsa.

Daily new cases in Oklahoma

The next chart shows South Dakota COVID cases. Its period of moderate cases lasted into July, broken only by outbreaks at meat-processing facilities. It even seems to have survived Trump’s Independence Day show at Mt. Rushmore, perhaps because the audience was outdoors and not shouting or singing. The trigger for exponential growth seems to be the Sturgis motorcycle rally, which lasted several days.

Daily new cases in South Dakota

The politicization of the response to the coronavirus has its cause in Trump’s rejection of science, but it has many enablers. In Wisconsin, one of these enablers is the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL). First, it successfully sued in Wisconsin’s Supreme Court to overturn the emergency order to fight the pandemic. The result of this success was a 177 percent increase in new COVID cases in Wisconsin.

Recently WILL has sued to end the governor’s mask order. If successful, this would appear to eliminate the governor’s only tool to fight the pandemic, given the Legislature’s unwillingness to engage with the governor to solve any of Wisconsin’s problems. The most likely outcome is that the pandemic would further spread in Wisconsin. Why is this a good thing?

In a press release accompanying the suit, WILL insisted:

This lawsuit is not about whether masks are good or bad, or whether Wisconsin ought to do more, or less, to address COVID-19. It isn’t even about whether the state should have a mask mandate. This lawsuit is about our system of government and the rule of law. Governor Evers cannot seize these time-limited emergency powers more than once without legislative approval.

This seems hypocritical to me. There are several alternative interpretations of the law. In the previous lawsuit, three of the seven justices, including one widely considered conservative, disagreed with WILL’s interpretation. So WILL’s aggressive pursuit of only the interpretation that would disarm the governor in the fight against COVID seems like a policy decision. One must ask WILL why the likely outcome of a successful lawsuit—the increased spread of COVID—is a good thing.

For something considered barely living, the coronavirus has been remarkably successful in gaining human allies that allow it to prosper, particularly in the United States, which has one of the world’s highest rates of COVID-19 per-capita in the world. The question for the humans is why they think sabotaging the fight against the virus is a good thing.

More about the Coronavirus Pandemic

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Categories: Health, Weekly

One thought on “Data Wonk: How Republicans Embrace COVID-19”

  1. Dan Wilson says:

    Participants at Trump’s Kenosha round table “discussion” were asked to remove their masks.

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